Just another college girl fightin' the patriarchy

Simone de Beauvoir was once asked in an outraged way if she truly believed women shouldn’t be given the choice to be housewives. She responded that no, they shouldn’t since she will choose it every time.

When I was first told about the differences between second and third wave feminists, it was framed to me as such; do you believe that women should have the choice to do as they like or do you think that women who shave their legs, wear dresses, and have sex are wrong? Being my pre-feminist self I became defensive of my skirts and the fact that I shaved my legs. I LIKE shaving my legs, I said. I LIKE wearing makeup.

On the train yesterday was a woman scratching her legs. She had dark stubble growing in on her ankles and she must have reached down to scratch 10 or 15 times. It looked painful, and she looked self-conscious and embarrassed. Another woman on the subway was self-consciously covering her knees because they had a small amount of hair on them. And they had every reason to be. A man across the subway from me was eyeballing me in an uncomfortable way until he got to my hairy legs, at which point his eyes widened and he looked away quickly. The attention my hairy legs get is astonishing. People look repulsed, as though female body hair is somehow covered in plague. They will stare as if they’ve never seen hair on a woman before, as if I’m deformed in some way. If I wasn’t a radical feminist, that kind of attention would have made me mortified to exist.

Shaving your legs is expensive. You go through a razor head a month, at a cost of maybe $2 per piece, plus shaving creams at a cost of maybe $3 each. It is time consuming. In order to not have stubble a woman must shave at least every other day, maybe every day, at around 5-10 minutes per session. It is assumed that every few times you shave you will cut yourself a little. There is certainly nothing fun about leg shaving.

There is only one reason to shave your legs. Because the pain of shaving your legs is, to most women, much less than the pain of not shaving her legs. The pain of money and time wasted and the annoyance of the occasional cut, the irritation of constant stubble growth, is far less than the pain and humiliation of being given the looks I am given. Being considered repulsive, disgusting. That kind of woman. One of them. Feminists.

That is not a free choice. A free choice is whether I want chocolate or strawberry ice cream. Being given two options, one that will be difficult and one that will be easy, is not free will since most people will choose the easier way. It would be like saying, you can choose the chocolate or the strawberry, but if you choose the chocolate you will be punched in the face. And then saying people just inherently like strawberry more when they choose it. This is not a free choice.

The more complicated way to talk about this is in the frame of women presenting themselves. Women supposedly have two equally valid choices, to present themselves as objects or to not present themselves as objects. We are told by funfems that women have the option to be either, that most women simply choose out of inherent desire, to serve men. Women and girls are shown role models on TV, the fuckable doctor, the fuckable lawyer, the fuckable teacher, etc… The message is extremely clear. In order to be successful as a woman, you must be fuckable. You must leverage your sexuality to get to the top. That your sexuality is your most important aspect. Who needs to do well in science class if you can seduce the science nerds into doing well for you? Women are told that if they cannot present their sexuality as their only identity, then they are not worthwhile as whole human beings.

What is not presented are the women who choose not to define themselves by pornified sexuality. There are very few shows where a normal-looking woman or a woman who focuses on her career/friends/hobbies/passions is presented, unless that “flaw” is part of plot. Think Ugly Betty where the fact that she is merely average looking must be constantly pointed out so viewers won’t think it’s an oversight. These women, the women who don’t entirely define themselves in relation to the men around them and how they can manipulate them with their bodies are completely absent, completely invisible. Given those two options, acceptance and success versus invisibility, who would choose the latter? And because of this invisibility of the woman not wishing to be constantly viewed as “for sex,” very few women even know this option exists. When women are presented with only one option, it can hardly be surprising when she “chooses” it.

When a woman goes to buy clothing, these images and ideas are not wiped clean from her brain. It would be impossible given that everything she has ever seen, heard, read about, or experienced is in relation to these images and ideas. She could buy the practical clothing, or she could buy high heels. The fuckable women often wear heels, while the not-fuckable women don’t. The heels make her legs look longer, she can now emulate the fuckable character. So she chooses the heels, she believes she likes the heels when in fact, she simply likes the image the heels give her. This is reinforced when she goes outside and gathers votes of approval from the men staring at her legs up and down. Yes, she thinks, she definitely likes the heels. They hurt, but it’s “worth it” because of the approval she gets.

But it’s never good enough. She needs to buy more things to emulate the character even more. There is a constant stream of things she must buy to emulate these characters. New impractical shoes, new impractical makeup, new toxins to put on her scalp and skin. There is no way that any woman can truly live up to this image she is burdened with. I was once sitting with a man and a tall skinny blonde woman in extremely high stiletto heels and a very small tight dress walked past. He was practically falling on the ground drooling and slobbering and yelling about how hot she was. Look at those legs! He exclaimed. Then just seconds later, she had to walk across the grass and was unable. She sank in, staggered around, tripping and falling, desperately pulling at the bottom of her dress to cover everything until she had to be carried by her friend in flat shoes. Was this guy supporting her? Do you think he was still drooling over her, giving her his praise? No. Throughout all of this he mocked her, cruelly and endlessly. What an idiot, he said. Why would ANY woman wear heels? It’s so stupid. When I pointed out to him that his reaction 10 seconds ago is why women wear heels, he didn’t have anything to say except that she was still a “freak.” The impracticality was expected, appreciated, loathed and mocked.

There is no winning for women, there is no good choice. But always “choosing” the one that panders to this unattainable standard of fuckability is the one thing guaranteed to not be able to free us from double standards, victim-blaming, and being viewed in a one-dimensional hyper-sexualized way. Because of the complete invisibility of an option other than hyper-sexualized and pandering to male porn fantasy, women only have one option visible to them. Women believe they have choice because they are given so many ways to fit the porn fantasy. Do they want red or black heels? Gold or silver eyeshadow? This act of “choosing” gives women the illusion that they have some kind of free choice when in fact, they are all choosing the exact same thing. But really, when women are only presented with one option, how can ANYONE be surprised when she chooses it? If there is no other choice, there can be no “choice” at all. It’s simply doing what you’re told. This is why even the “feminism is about choice” argument completely falls apart. There is no choice.

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Comments on: "Who would choose a punch in the face over strawberry?" (23)

  1. the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, as my grandma used to say….thank you, Elkballet. well said.

  2. outspoken12 said:

    I just discovered your blog and your writing–I want to commend you on how clear, how logical, and how sane your ideas are! I will be back to read everything you write! Thanks for your work–it means a lot, at least to me.

  3. Yes, very well said. It is all the illusion of choice, not true choice.

    However, when one does actually find and choose that invisible choice, it is so much more liberating. After you have been doing it a while (and particularly if you have no interest in male approval) you just don’t care any more. The male approval thing is so fleeting anyway.

    I would have opted for the strawberry btw, even without the disincentive of the other…

  4. Bella_rs said:

    Right on elkballet! So true…how much choice do we reallyhave in a patriarchal & capitalist system? Women have very few…

  5. Great post. I was thinking of two other factors that enter in. One is that these image choices are ageist. If an older woman wears too much makeup, it is not “sexy,” it becomes “pathetic.” Older women get cosmetic surgery for this reason, but that is often seen as pathetic. Another factor is class. A woman dressed in expensive stilleto heels is more valued than one in cheap ones. If one is truly poor, one cannot have a look like this, instead dressing in clothes that are out of fashion, frayed, ill-fitting, then again one will be seen as pathetic.

    Another thing that women are told is to focus attention on their “best features” and hide, as much as possible, their “worst features.” What are best and worst features, anyway? This makes women ashamed of some features and feel these should be hidden.

  6. As usual, your writing is so very articulate, Elkballet! You always write pieces I would not hesitate to share with “funfems” I know.

    “There is only one reason to shave your legs. Because the pain of shaving your legs is, to most women, much less than the pain of not shaving her legs.”

    Exactly, and this goes for all female slave (oops, I mean beauty) rituals, as well. When I was in sixth grade, I was teased mercilessly *by other girls* for not shaving my legs. As someone with Ashkanazi Jewish heritage, my legs were, well, very, very dark and hairy. I can still remember sneaking in to use my mom’s electric razor when she went out of the house. And how proud I was for doing so.

    It was a ritual among the girls to complain about how they “needed” to shave because their legs were soooo hairy when in fact they hadn’t been more than a couple days without shaving. The girl who doesn’t play by the rules reminds them that they don’t have to, either, that they’re actually making a choice.

  7. […] Elkballet once again takes on the subject of choice, in her usual, thoughtful, articulate, […]

  8. I ain’t gonna lie – i shaved my legs a few days ago. But i couldn’t do it without my mind asking me “what the hell are you doing?”

    This sums it up well for me

    “There is only one reason to shave your legs. Because the pain of shaving your legs is, to most women, much less than the pain of not shaving her legs. The pain of money and time wasted and the annoyance of the occasional cut, the irritation of constant stubble growth, is far less than the pain and humiliation of being given the looks I am given. Being considered repulsive, disgusting. That kind of woman. One of them. Feminists.”

    I shave my legs, well during the summer maybe 2 or 3 times in total, because I still feel a personal, internalized amount of shame about it. In Canada, you rarely see women with hairy legs unless you are at a music festival or something (this has been my experience) I was so alarmed with myself when I shaved my calves before a music festival I went to this past month. Ugh.

    People stare at me and I have had family members tell me how disgusting it was (female family members!)

    This isn’t an excuse, but I don’t want to pretend I was happily shaving. It felt more like an obligation.

    Thank you for this post

    BK

    • Of course I would never judge anyone for practicing femininity. I wear makeup and shave my armpits. It’s all about choosing your battles. Given that I don’t intend to make radical feminism a career I HAVE to look a certain way to get jobs and such, and that’s probably the same for just about all women. If my leg hair wasn’t blond and sparse I probably wouldn’t be so quick to stop shaving.

      The point is that we all have to aware of why we do what we do. If one day all women stood up and said, “to hell with this, I refuse to do any of this stuff anymore,” it would be a different story. But when it’s just one woman out of a thousand, it’s incredibly hard to try to do it all at once.

    • Amen! A lot of women when asked about this truly and honestly believe that leg hair is itchy and rough. This is because most women have been shaving for so long that they have never even felt what it’s like and can’t fathom that it gets to a point beyond stubble where it’s soft. I think most women genuinely think stubble is full grown.

  9. Great – don’t forget the sad catchphrase “I’m doing it for ME!”

    Wearing heels
    Wearing makeup
    Shaving
    “Doing” your hair
    ….

    Shouldn’t YOU have something better to do for YOU?

  10. TheGreatSpaces said:

    I think what is happening is that everyone is moving towards removing hair. Feminism is working, just not in the way it was originally intended.
    At Christmas I discovered through drunken conversations with my cousins that out of the 5 guys (20-somethings) on the veranda that night I was the only one who didn’t wax his crack – and I’m the gay one! I may not be as enthusiastic about this personal grooming trend as most people, but that’s just because I’m lazy. I think the future points more towards the equalisation of overly-strict grooming regimes, not a feminist-led acceptance of a hairy populace.
    Also, just a thought, but don’t you think it’s interesting that body hair removal (or concealment with stockings) became expected around the same era that woman started showing more of their bodies…? There are such things as aesthetic absolutes (think solid colours vs patterns); and it’s also valid to speculate about the link between testosterone levels and hair growth – a woman with more hair may, in the mind of the layman, appear more masculine based on what he knows about the human body. Whether it’s scientific or not, I don’t think it’s fair to call him sexist.
    One more small point “a razor head a month, at a cost of maybe $2 per piece, plus shaving creams at a cost of maybe $3 each” that is like $5/month… I don’t see the issue there. As far as the time spent on it… I mean, since the 1950s westerners have watched an average of 4 hours of TV every night. We have the time…
    So what I’m saying is that we are becoming more equal and I don’t think most people feel that this level of grooming is that much of a bother.

    • Simply because a small number of guys also wax and shave does not change anything for the situation women are in. Men have the choice to shave and wax, women really don’t. If a man has a hairy chest or a beard, it’s just a statement, a fashion choice. For women shaving is considered mandatory and regardless of whether you (someone who is not required to shave his legs daily) takes a look at the situation and decides from your observations (not experiences) that it isn’t a hassle, from someone who has actually had to do this, I’m telling you, it is. Also a razor at $2 a piece isn’t a once per month deal. When I was shaving legs, armpits, and bikini line, changing blades weekly was a requirement, plus special creams and exfoliants to prevent ingrown hairs, plus several minutes a day caring for the inevitable ingrown hairs that did occur (painfully) regularly. It’s fair to say I spent over a hundred a year on shaving, minimum, not to mention the constant trying of new products that promised pain-free and better hair removal and since waxing is now much more common, it’s at least $20 per body part to be done, every 6 weeks or so. That’s an enormous amount of money. We are not even close to becoming more equal. In fact I see far more hairiness appearing among men (beards) and far more hair removal appearing among women (brazilians). The divide is getting larger not smaller, regardless of what your sample size of 5 indicates.

      I don’t buy any kind of evolutionary argument on this. We evolved hair, that is a fact. If women were more attractive without any hair for some natural reason, we would have evolved not to have it. Simple. The reason hairlessness is attractive is partially because it used to be a marker of class. People who had money could afford to shave, people who didn’t have money remained hairy. In fact in history, men began shaving far before women, first because beards were seen as dangerous during combat and because of Alexander the Great’s preference for it among his troops.

  11. Great post!!!! I stopped shaving at 17 or so and I have heard all the comments like disgusting, shameful and gross. BUT I have also had a lot of men and women come up to me and tell me how attractive they find it. I have to have a quiet boast here about my hubby who find hairless women a turn off… I once walked into the room and hubby had left a computer site running by mistake. At first I was a bit shocked as I saw a lot of naked women on the computer screen…. then I smiled and felt a little proud as the site portrayed average mixed shape women with body hair( I think it was called something like hairy and natural). I know, I know he was objectifying women, but I cant help feeling a little proud that he find women as they are and how they come to be beautiful and arousing.
    p.s I like to remove my body hair once or twice a year for a bit of a shedding ritual. kind of like having a spring clean out.

  12. TheGreatSpaces said:

    I didn’t make any kind of evolutionary argument… please don’t misrepresent my comments.

    • There are such things as aesthetic absolutes (think solid colours vs patterns);

      Whence comes these absolutes if not from nature?

      and it’s also valid to speculate about the link between testosterone levels and hair growth – a woman with more hair may, in the mind of the layman, appear more masculine based on what he knows about the human body

      All the more reason to discuss the way culture distorts perception. If people have only been exposed to images of hairless skin, then women with sparse body hair begin to look “masculine” and women with normal levels of body hair begin to look positively grotesque.

    • and it’s also valid to speculate about the link between testosterone levels and hair growth – a woman with more hair may, in the mind of the layman, appear more masculine based on what he knows about the human body. Whether it’s scientific or not, I don’t think it’s fair to call him sexist.

      If not an evolutionary argument, it is a biological argument.

  13. Natalya said:

    The easiest option is to just do what you want and not give people the right to make you feel embarrassed in the way you present yourself to society. Confidence is the most fuckable character trait. There is someone out there that will find you attractive, it just has to be you; not a mask out costume.

  14. I personally don’t shave anything or ware heels or makeup, I shaved in high school but really didn’t bother after that. I’ve had a reasonably pleasant 30 years on the planet, three kids, married, have worked for parts of it, mainly in reception and retail. 🙂 can’t complain. My guess is this is confidence based. You don’t need to fight the machine or blame the machine, just build your own way through it really. We are all unique anyway if others don’t get that show them or ignore them but never defend your choices. 🙂
    At 5 my eldest daughter loves swirly skirts, nail polish, linkin park, Dora, playing flight sims, making treasure maps, having tea parties, doing Lego models, building cubby houses, going on bush walks, taking photos, watching her favourite documentaries of Stephen Hawkins, drawing love hearts and flowers and making cake! She is herself, she will never be a feminist or a play thing for men no label would suit. She is comfortable in her uniqueness, happy in her mid ground. I will do everything in my power to make sure she stays that way. “this is not a black and white world, to be alive I say the colours must swirl” …”we will all learn to apriciate the beauty of grey” – beauty of grey, Live. 

  15. I really enjoyed reading this… it made me think a lot. I´m used to hearing the “I do ir for myself” and “feminism is about choice” a lot, and I didn´t quite agree, but until today I couldn´t explain or know why. There are a lot of things that we do just because they will turn us into “desirable” woman and I think we wouldn´t really do them if we could choose freely. Most of the time I do not shave my legs, and I don´t wear makeup, but I do feel ashamed sometimes of showing my hairy legs. Although I am starting to feel more comfortable about that. Your arguments are great, I love the way you write. I definitely learned a lot today. You are so right.

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